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Homeschoolers and Civic Involvement

By Michael Reitz
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #60, 2004.

Hands-on politics for homeschooled teens.

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Michael Reitz

The 2004 presidential election is coming up in November and the outcome is of immense importance to our nation.

Unfortunately, today's young people exhibit a disturbing lack of interest in government and politics. A 2003 CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll shows that voters under the age of 30 are far less likely to vote than those who are over 30. A current population survey revealed that only 36.1 percent of 18-24 year olds voted in the 2000 presidential election, compared to 59.5 percent of the general population.

Why the low voter turnout for this age group? Why the apathy? Well, habits of civic involvement are formed long before a person reaches the age of 18. If a student is engaged and involved before 18, chances are that trend will continue on into the adult years. But if a young person is not given an opportunity to participate in civic activities, he or she is less likely to be interested upon reaching adulthood.

In contrast to national trends, homeschool students and graduates tend to be very active in government and politics. Dr. Brian Ray of the National Home Education Research Institute conducted a study of adults who were homeschooled to evaluate how well they fit into society. He found that homeschoolers are far more likely to be politically active. A full 74 percent of 18-24 year old homeschooled adults have voted in a national election in the last five years. When asked if politics and government are too complicated to understand, 35 percent of the general U.S. population said yes, while only 4.2 percent of homeschool graduates agree. Homeschool graduates in every age group are more likely to contribute money to a candidate, work for a political cause, attend public meetings, and write to an editor or official to express their opinions.

This finding that homeschool graduates are engaged in local and national governments is not surprising when you consider the examples of parents who fought for their right to homeschool all through the child's school years.

Young people should be involved in local, state and national elections because they can exert a significant impact on the outcome of an election. It is important for parents to give their children the opportunity to engage in government, realizing that a person does not have to be 18 to have an influence. Additionally, we have a responsibility to elect good leaders for our nation and it is never too early to begin learning about this responsibility.

Realizing the importance of mobilizing young people, the Home School Legal Defense Association launched Generation Joshua this year. Generation Joshua is designed to help give young people the necessary ingredients for effective citizenship and future leadership: a vision for America's future, and the opportunity for hands-on leadership. The program has a three-part focus, giving young people the opportunity to participate in civics education, voter registration drives, and student action teams in important election states.

"Christians as a whole have neglected their duty to be involved," says Ned Ryun, director of Generation Joshua. "In 2001, Pew Research conducted a poll of American evangelical Christians of voting age. Of the 59 million of voting age, only 15 million voted in the 2000 elections." Generation Joshua seeks to change this statistic.

Ryun, also the HSLDA Political Action Committee Director (HSLDA PAC), points out the success of youth activism: "In the fall of 2002, seven teams of homeschool graduates and college students traveled across the United States to help with seven federal campaigns. Six of the seven candidates won and they gave credit to their young volunteers." Voter turnout went up 15 percent in some local areas where the young people worked. HSLDA PAC plans to send out 15 Student Action Teams this fall to engage in similar activism in key races. Each team will focus on a "get out the vote" effort, including making phone calls and going door-to-door to boost voter turnout.

There are many things homeschool students who want to have an impact can do, says Sarah Mehrens, a program manager with Generation Joshua. "Campaigns need volunteers, newspapers will print letters to the editor about current events, including elections and candidates, and maybe the teens can't vote, but their neighbors and relatives can - teens can help with voter registration drives. Recently three different Generation Joshua members held voter registration drives at homeschool conferences in three different states. Each came away having registered a minimum of 30 new voters."

You don't have to be of voting age to be involved in important political elections. Not only is volunteer work important for a candidate's sake, it is one of the most exciting efforts in which a young person can be involved. Be sure to take advantage of this excellent educational opportunity this fall!

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